Nov 21, 2005

Preventing Dumbness: The Role of Philosophy in the Academy, the Pulpit, and the Pew - Part 3

In the Pew
By speaking of the role of philosophy "in the pew," I mean to refer to the role of philosophy in the life of the average Christian believer as he seeks to live his life before the face of God each day and provide salt and light to the culture in which he lives. Much of what I have said above is applicable to the average believer. Apologetics and logic, especially, are disciplines that each and every Christian ought to spend some time studying in order to fulfill the obligations enjoined on him by the Great Commission (Matt. 2:19-20) and First Peter 3:15.

Beyond these, however, let me add a couple of more roles that philosophy can play in the life of the Christian in the pew. First, insofar as philosophy deals with the history of ideas and with the most basic questions that people ask—"What is real?", "How do we know?", "What is right and what is wrong?", "What is beautiful?""—it can help the Christian be a well-rounded, culturally literate citizen who can make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of his society. Unless you think that evangelism is the only reason Christians have been left in the world, then you will agree that we have a contribution to make to culture as culture, to society as society; that we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens to participate in establishing sound public policy, to make and support good art and good music, etc. Philosophy, through the study of the history of ideas and through philosophical analysis of ideas, can enable Christians to be responsibly engaged in these and every other aspect of human society, avoiding the mistakes of the past as well as the present. In line with my earlier discussion of "faith seeking understanding," philosophical study can also help the Christian inject Christian principles and values into the various spheres of culture, drawing out, for example, the implications of the Christian worldview for politics, education, art, and science.

Second, and closely related to the first point, philosophy can strengthen the Christian’s ability to discern truth from error. The Word of God tells us to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1) and to avoid being "carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14). The study of God’s Word is basic to this task, of course. But, I have pointed out that understanding and applying the Bible and formulating sound doctrine from the Scriptures is enhanced by theology’s handmaid, philosophy. Think, for example, of how many Christians have been snared by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have charged the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity with absurdity. Certainly, a carefully study of the Scriptures are absolutely crucial to preventing thins kind of tragedy. Yet, also helpful if not necessary would be a careful philosophical defense of these doctrines which show their logical coherence. I believe that such apologetic material, designed to help Christians avoid falling victim to false religions and philosophies, ought not to be the purview of the ivory tower alone, but ought to be placed in the hands of the average Christian.

I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the issue of the role of philosophy in the Christian circles. I have left many questions unanswered. My primary goal here, however, was not to answer every question, but to simply pique enough interest among the Christians gathered here to at least take this issue seriously. If what I have said is anywhere near true, as general and undeveloped as it is, and if the anti-intellectualism that has gripped the church for decades is to be eradicated, then philosophy—good, Christian philosophy—must given a more significant role in the academy, the pulpit, and the pew. I think that we Christian philosophers already know this. Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, and William Lane Craig have been saying similar things for years. The task for us is to convince everybody else!